Showing posts with label dietary laws. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dietary laws. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What We Eat

“He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated for other than God. But whoever is forced by necessity, neither desiring [it], nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed God is Forgiving and Merciful.”
(al-Baqarah 2:173)
Islam teaches that the body and the intellect are, amongst other things, an amana or trust. Therefore, any law regarding them is meant to preserve and protect this trust.  As a result, Islamic dietary law prohibits intoxicants, smoking and specific categories of animals. Based on other verses and the Sunnah,[1] the list of animals includes carnivores, swine, reptiles, birds of prey, pests and insects, due to the nature of their diet and metabolism.  As a confirmation that life is sacred and that the only reason the animal is being killed is to fulfill one’s need for food, all animals deemed lawful are slaughtered in a humane fashion. The phrase “In the name of God, God is greater” is recited during the process.  Consequently, a Muslim may not eat from a carcass, an animal that has died from strangulation, blow or fall, or an animal that has been sacrificed for an idol. Living by these rules nurtures my spiritual and physical well-being, and raises my awareness of the many trusts I have been given.

There are many similarities between the Muslim dietary laws and Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws: humane slaughter accompanied by the recitation of a blessing by a trained ritual slaughterer, forbidden animals such as swine, birds of prey and carcasses of wild animals. The basic difference may be the inherent assumption that dietary laws are related to maintaining a healthy body.  While some Jews have interpreted the laws of Kashrut in this manner, I see them as part of an altogether different rubric of laws.  The lists of permitted and forbidden animals in the Torah,[2] as well as the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk,[3] are classified by the rabbis as hukkim, statutes, for which the only explanation given is “I am the Lord your God.”  The underlying reason for observing Kashrut, then, is simply to follow God’s mitzvot, commandments.  The physical act of eating at once elevates the spirit to a state of holiness and humbles the body to a state of submission before the Holy One.

I so appreciate the fervor with which both of you observe the dietary laws of your faiths, and I can only hope that you will not be offended by my own practice, which is to “eat darn near anything.” I use this colloquial expression to acknowledge—with humor, not sacrilege—our differences. Christians interpret the creation story of Genesis 1 to mean that all plants and animals are given to us as God’s good gifts, without restriction. Yet, we also acknowledge that the body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” (I Cor 6:19-20) The wholesome nurture of our bodies demands that we are mindful of what we take into ourselves [4] and cautious about creating stumbling blocks for others.  Recently, I was preparing a dinner for the three of us and found myself struggling to know fully how to “keep Kosher.” I fear that I may have unintentionally violated an especially important prohibition for you, Tziporah. How deeply grateful I am, then, for the spirit of hesed (kindness) that allowed both of you to sit at the table with me.

[1] Sunnah refers to the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon Him], found in the Hadith and other texts.
[2] See Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14
[3] Exodus 23:19, 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21
[4] Christian denominations differ in their positions on alcohol. While Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches generally permit consumption of alcoholic beverages, Mormons abstain from both caffeine and alcohol.  Seventh Day Adventists—who run excellent heart hospitals in this country—recommend adherence to a vegetarian diet, which is believed to be more easily digestible and thereby protective of the human body. For personal health reasons—not religious mandate—I eat meat, chicken and fish, limit my consumption of bread and abstain from alcohol.